20 years on, volunteers Maria and Andre keep giving

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It was the search for a volunteering role that could involve their children that led Taylors Lakes residents Maria and Andre tbecome Interchange Hosts. Two decades on, the couple consider they have grown their family rather than become volunteers. 

Maria first learned of the Gateways Support Services program (then Interchange) through an ad in her local newspaper and knew immediately it was the perfect role for her family. 

Gateways Interchange Host Buddy program carefully matches a child or young person with a disability, with an individual or host family to share their time with that child on a regular basis. 

‘I could see the benefits to the family of the child but also enjoyed being able to give to the community and involve my own children in developing an understanding and acceptance of children with a disability,’ says Maria. 

She says the appreciation of the young person’s family showed her just how important the program could be in supporting individuals as well as their primary carers. 

Over the past 20 years, the couple have welcomed many children into their home. 

‘We started with a set of twins, then hosted a five-year-old boy until he was twelve. He began learning the piano with me and went on to complete his Grade 8 exam. He is now twenty-five, and a Facebook friend,’ Maria says. 

‘Currently we host our 18-year-old young adult, Andrew.’  

Andrew’s mother, Joanne, says Maria and Andre have become an extension of the family over the 13 years they have hosted her son. 

‘Maria & André would take Andrew to the park, Scienceworks and even to the beach! He was one lucky boy and we were so lucky to have found such a wonderful family to help give us a little break,’ Joanne says. 

Maria says the young man now enjoys spending time lounging in their home on the hammock or couch, watching DVDs and playing on his iPad. 

‘He is really just part of the family and we don’t think of our role as volunteers. We consider all the children we look after as part of our family,’ says Maria. 

‘I would encourage more people to volunteer as the rewards are greater than the effort.’ 

The Interchange Host Buddy program is one of the volunteering opportunities available through Gateways Support Services to support children and adults with disabilities to feel valued and included. Commitments for the program vary and there is flexibility to work around each volunteer’s schedule.  

To find out more, visit the volunteering section of our website or contact Volunteer Coordinators, Maggie Costa or Linda Justin, at westernmelbourne@gateways.com.au or by phoning the Gateways Footscray office on 9396 1111.

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